From the book Open by Jenny Block. Excerpted by arrangement with Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright 2008.
As time went on, she realized that several key elements make a successful open marriage, and though those factors involved the community of people she surrounded herself with, it was mostly about how she chose to act and react, and how to be in her relationship and her own skin. Having come this far, she more than realized that it was never going to be easy. She was always going to need to protect her daughter. Things couldn't always be exactly as she wanted them to be. But she was doing it, and she knew she wasn't alone in her journey.
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Being in a successful open marriage is about four things: 1) finding the support you need, both within your marriage and from the people around you; 2) accepting that jealousy is a manufactured emotion that, with enough conscious effort, you can learn to let go of; 3) treating an open marriage as you would a traditional one—that is, normalizing it as a choice for everyone; and 4) overcoming people's fears and misunderstanding of open marriage and its supposed consequences on society at large.
Despite the fact that few people who are in open marriages talk about it either publicly (in the media, for example) or openly (that is, within their own community of friends and family members), open open marriage, any number of forms, and going by a variety of alternate names, is becoming more and more common. Oprah has featured couples in open marriages, and it's the subject of a variety of new books and articles, from Tristan Taormino's book Opening Up: Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships to Em and Lo's article in the June 2007 issue of Glamour magazine, "The Secret Sex Lives of American Couples," which featured a couple in an open relationship. In other words, if mass media is any indication, it's increasingly treated as a viable lifestyle choice (though only in more progressive areas, of course).
Unfortunately, I don't live in a particularly forward-thinking part of the country, which means I have to live less openly than I'd like to. That is, although I don't hide the way I live, I don't announce it, either. I introduce my husband as my husband, and my girlfriend as my girlfriend, and answer any questions that might arise. But unless friends and neighbors and colleagues read my work, they might not have any idea about the way I live. We are neither out nor closeted. In a way, it's terrific that it then is no big deal, because why should it be? By the same token, it would be nice to be surrounded constantly by like-minded people with whom I could discuss freely the ins and outs of living openly.
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I will say, though, that in certain venues and events, my situation is readily accepted, particularly in the LGBTQ and arts communities. We now know that non-monogamy has a long, long history; it's just that it hasn't always been referred to as "open marriage." But many people are beginning to see lifelong monogamy for the facade it is. Along with soaring divorce rates, more and more people are defining for themselves what their families will look like, and open relationships are gaining traction. In my very humble opinion, this has a lot to do with people's wising up. Many thinking men and women find themselves reflecting on why their marriages aren't working, and what marriage might need to look like in order for it to succeed. And for those people, who want to retain a relationship they value but that is lacking something, be it large or small, open marriage can be a long-term, happy, and healthy solution. It's the smart way of approaching something that deserves more reliance on logic and less on magic. It takes a heck of a lot more than fairy dust to hold a relationship together.
So, back to the things you need: Number one is support from your spouse. Open marriage is productive only if both partners are onboard. And because the rules can morph and change, it requires ongoing attention and communication. I remember when the need for Christopher and me to support each other, unconditionally, first became abundantly clear to me. It was after our first major bump, which happened early on with Lisbeth. It was after she decided she no longer wanted to sleep with me, but did want to continue sleeping with Christopher. I specifically asked him not to have sex with her one night, but he did it anyway. I was crushed. His explanation? He thought my request was silly. I was astounded. His behavior showed a blatant disregard for the boundaries we had set. And what's the point of setting boundaries if they're going to be so casually dismissed? Without at least some sort of guidelines, our open marriage simply wasn't going to work.